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Megan Smolenyak
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Megan Smolenyak Smolenyak (yes, that's her real name) is a real life history detective who loves to solve mysteries. You might have spotted Megan or her handiwork on Top Chef, Who Do You Think You Are?, Finding Your Roots, Faces of America, Good Morning America, the Today Show, The Early Show, CNN, PBS, BBC and NPR.

She's the author of 6 books, including Hey, America, Your Roots Are Showing and Who Do You Think You Are? (companion to the TV series) and conducts forensic research for the Army, coroners, NCIS and the FBI.

Among her “greatest hits” are:

* Discovering Michelle Obama’s roots (as featured on front page of NYT)

* Celebrity roots as seen on assorted TV shows (e.g., Martha Stewart, Stephen Colbert, Brooke Shields, Cory Booker, Susan Sarandon, Emmitt Smith, Richard Blais, etc.) and in her writings (e.g., Betty White, Katy Perry, Joe Biden, Beyonce, Julia Roberts, Josh Groban, Pink, Prince, Jon Stewart, Bruno Mars, etc.)

* Tracing Barack Obama’s roots to Moneygall, Co. Offaly, Ireland

* Correcting history by revealing the true story of Annie Moore, the first immigrant through Ellis Island (as featured on front page of NYT)

* Providing a decade of forensic consulting to the U.S. Army to locate thousands of family members of soldiers still unaccounted for from WWI, WWII, Korea and Southeast Asia

* Using her sleuthing skills to help coroners and medical examiners locate the next of kin for unclaimed persons

Follow her on Twitter, Facebook,, or HonoringOurAncestors.

Entries by Megan Smolenyak

Inmates Indexing Genealogy Records

(3) Comments | Posted August 13, 2015 | 9:14 AM


A short while ago, I tripped across an article in Mother Jones by Shane Bauer entitled Your Family's Genealogical Records May Have Been Digitized by a Prisoner.

I've long enjoyed the insightful pieces this publication offers and was pleased...

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Alfre Woodard Goes on a Memorable Roots Journey

(1) Comments | Posted August 6, 2015 | 2:41 PM

(courtesy of TLC)

Actress Alfre Woodard's grandfather died when her father was only a toddler, so this part of her family tree is a mystery. To uncover the past, Ms. Woodard goes an ancestral journey through Georgia and Louisiana, and learns the triumphant...

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Season 3 of 'Finding Your Roots' Green-Lighted for January 2016 Return on PBS

(4) Comments | Posted July 14, 2015 | 12:45 PM

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the PBS decision to delay the next season of Finding Your Roots as a result of an internal investigation triggered by the Ben Affleck incident involving censorship of a slave-owning ancestor of his from a previously aired episode. Season 3 of the...

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Celebrity Genealogy on TV: Who and When?

(3) Comments | Posted June 28, 2015 | 6:00 PM

History and genealogy geeks are delighted with the TLC announcement that its popular celebrity roots series, Who Do You Think You Are? (WDYTYA), will be back for its seventh season starting on July 26. Stepping into the ancestral spotlight this time are Tom Bergeron, Bryan Cranston, Ginnifer Goodwin, and Alfre...

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LeBron James Is Making His Cleveland Ancestors Proud

(0) Comments | Posted June 15, 2015 | 8:54 AM


There's no shortage of coverage of the stunning performance of LeBron James in the NBA finals, nor of his Prodigal Son, return-to-Cleveland tale. Even so, he's widely regarded as a son of Akron, which makes perfect sense since he was...

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WWI Hero Sgt. Henry Johnson Receives Long Overdue Medal of Honor

(3) Comments | Posted June 2, 2015 | 3:13 PM

Sgt. (William) Henry Johnson

Almost a century after their service, Sgt. Henry Johnson* and Sgt. William Shemin were finally awarded the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony for their heroics in World War I. Both had been overlooked previously, though Johnson,...

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World's Largest Family Reunion: Genealogy or Preen-ealogy?

(11) Comments | Posted June 1, 2015 | 2:22 PM


A.J. Jacobs has me at war with myself. As a fan of experiment-on-self books and documentaries, I'm a long-time admirer of his and greatly enjoyed The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically, and The Guinea Pig Diaries. So when I first learned of...

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The Irish Heritage of the Remarkable Anne Meara

(0) Comments | Posted May 25, 2015 | 12:59 PM

Like so many, I am mourning the loss of actress, comedian and writer, Anne Meara. Partnered in every sense of the word with Jerry Stiller (whose autobiography is called Married to Laughter: A Love Story Featuring Anne Meara), her husband of 61 years, she brought smiles to all of us,...

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Memorial Day: Correcting the Story of World War I Medal of Honor Recipient Sgt. Henry Johnson

(2) Comments | Posted May 22, 2015 | 11:30 AM


It's almost a century later than would have been ideal, but Sgt. Henry Johnson* and Sgt. William Shemin are being awarded the Medal of Honor by President Obama at a White House ceremony for their heroics in World War I. Both...

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Multi-Layered Celebration at Ellis Island

(0) Comments | Posted May 21, 2015 | 2:50 PM

There was plenty to celebrate at the Gala in the Great Hall held at the freshly renamed Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration by The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation (SOLEIF) on Tuesday evening. The event marked the completion of the Peopling of America Center, the formal post-Sandy...

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Melissa Etheridge's French Canadian British American Spanish Ancestor

(0) Comments | Posted April 20, 2015 | 12:13 PM

Melissa Etheridge rocking the much-debated white gloves (courtesy of TLC)

Melissa Etheridge brings TLC's Who Do You Think You Are? season to a close (Sunday, April 24th, 10/9c) when she goes on a journey to uncover her father's maternal roots. She swiftly discovers...

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Bill Paxton Learns of His Revolutionary Past On 'Who Do You Think You Are?'

(0) Comments | Posted April 16, 2015 | 7:20 PM

(courtesy of TLC)

Actor Bill Paxton is featured this Sunday (April 19 at 10/9c on TLC) on Who Do You Think You Are? and digs into the paternal half of his family tree. He begins by solving a long-standing mystery by determining that...

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Hillary Clinton Family Tree a Wake-Up Call for Genealogy

(10) Comments | Posted April 6, 2015 | 8:59 AM


When Irish America requested that I research and write a piece on Hillary Rodham Clinton's heritage (pages 50-52), I was concerned. Why? Because delving into the ancestral past of celebrities has become something of a sub-hobby in the world...

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The Gift of #ThrowbackThursday

(0) Comments | Posted April 1, 2015 | 6:50 PM


As a genealogist, I'm so focused on the dearly departed that I often neglect the living, but I recently got a serious reminder that those of us above ground matter, too.

Like so many, I occasionally post a photo from the past...

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Lou Szucs: Genealogical Hero

(1) Comments | Posted March 31, 2015 | 12:16 PM

Lou Szucs (right) and daughter, Juliana

When I was growing up, we used to have heroes -- people who were widely admired by all. But now it seems that we love to topple our heroes off of their pedestals and few can survive...

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Sean Hayes Discovers Family's Criminal Past

(2) Comments | Posted March 28, 2015 | 11:47 AM

Seán Hayes at the Listowel Arms Hotel (real title of the book is At Home in Ireland)

Have you ever noticed that everyone's favorite episode of Who Do You Think You Are? is not necessarily the one featuring their favorite celebrity,...

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EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Angie Harmon Understands the Power of Walking in Your Ancestors Footsteps

(4) Comments | Posted March 19, 2015 | 3:46 PM

Angie Harmon and her daughters, proud roots and an amazing gene pool (courtesy of TLC)

This Sunday on Who Do You Think You Are? (March 22, 2015 at 10/9c on TLC), Angie Harmon -- who always thought she was Greek, Irish and Native...

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Exclusive Video: Josh Groban Discovering Remarkable and Controversial Ancestor

(4) Comments | Posted March 13, 2015 | 7:55 PM

(courtesy of TLC)

Josh Groban knows little about his mother's lineage, so sets out on a journey to learn more about the maternal side of his family tree on Who Do You Think You Are?, airing this Sunday, March 15 at 10/9c on...

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Who Do You Think You Are? Returns With Julie Chen

(0) Comments | Posted March 7, 2015 | 1:14 PM


The wait is over! Who Do You Think You Are?, the popular celebrity roots show, is finally back on Sunday, March 8th at 10/9c on TLC. Kicking off the season is Julie Chen who ventures to China (a first for the series) and...

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Historical Accuracy as Prison?

(0) Comments | Posted February 17, 2015 | 8:47 AM

Bilge Ebiri opens his article, "Oscar Films and the Prison of Historical Accuracy," saying, "You know it's Oscar season when the historical-accuracy hit squads show up." The genealogist in me bristles.

But read it all, I tell myself, and I do. And as I continue, I can't help...

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